Native Affairs asks serious questions over Ratahi death
While Te Ururoa Flavell is making headlines with his comments on youth suicide, Native Affairs this week has been pushing boundaries over the way that we deal with Māori mental health and also taboos surrounding dead bodies on television. The segment screened on Monday night, and was produced by award-winning Te Kaea reporter Semi Holland and featured a special interview with the whanau of Anthony Ratahi, the 46 year old man who was shot dead by the police in Taranaki after taking his ex-partner hostage.
Holland interviewed Ratahi's young daughters, who provided her with access to his tūpāpaku (body) at his tangihanga (funeral) at Oeo Pa. The daughters explained that they had provided the camera crew with this access in a bid to provide justice for their father. The images of Ratahi's body were confronting. Close ups and mid-shots of his body revealed where police had shot him through the eye, and the daughters showed the marks on his limbs from where he was also tasered and bitten by police dogs. His daughters said that they were well aware of their father's problems, and had attempted to stage interventions but their requests for help had been ignored by police. Apparently they had approached police for help on what mental health services could be used to help Ratahi but had been told he was just a domestic abuser.
The segment on Native Affairs was extraordinary for a number of reasons. First of all, there are many taboos around photography of the living and dead in Maori culture (a fact that was reported as the family being ‘hostile’ in the Taranaki Daily Times). The invitation into the tangihanga was extremely unusual for this reason. Second, the way the segment was constructed and shot offered a side to the story that is not often seen in mainstream media. Through placing Ratahi and his family front and centre, the Native Affairs episode differed radically in framing from the angle in mainstream news that these were the actions of a lone madman. Rather, Ratahi was positioned as someone who fell through the cracks. His family has drawn attention to the way that Ratahi did not receive any rehabilitation help or anger management programmes. Judith Collins has currently ordered five separate police investigations into Ratahi’s death under pressure from the Māori Party, and it is worth noting that this is the second fatal shooting in Taranaki, with Steven Wallace’s death occurring under similar circumstances.
It is imperative that we do look into the context of these events rather than merely writing them off as the uncontrollable actions of a few. Throwing the book at people is the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff, and clearly doesn’t work for many people. Ratahi had handed himself into police before, and from his family’s reports, it is likely he knew he was a danger to other people also. Police Association spokesman Greg O’Connor has said that “at least 99% of New Zealanders are supportive of police in their use of lethal force”, which aside from being a made up statistic, completely glosses over the fact that such investigations are held not only to clarify the police’s role in conflicts, but also to see whether our existing social services are strong enough to prevent the repetition of these events. Given that we are on the verge of cutting back on the Family Court system and controversial legal reforms, it is really important that we look at where our systems are failing us in not providing help for people who clearly need it.